Tag Archives: lamb

When it comes to Greek cuisine, I usually prefer the quick bites, the grab-and-go lamb souvlaki, wrapped hastily in pita bread, tsatziki imminently and inevitably dripping over the not so far reaching aluminum foil. Take, for instance, Kosta of the Greek Deli in the heart of DC. A legendary figure, with a bellowing “Next!” not so unfamiliar with the “Soup Nazi” character from Seinfeld. The food is prepped and cooked daily, the line almost always protrudes into the sidewalk, and there are only a handful of tables, used when the sun permits. You go in, you order with Kosta, you get your food in a paper bag, and you’re out. Next.

Greek cuisine at a white tablecloth establishment was new to me, until I dined at Nostos in the Tysons Corner area of Northern Virginia.

Previously, I stopped by to try the moussaka – it was unearthly. Perfectly baked, with distinct, unforgettable flavors at all layers. On this occasion, I had one thing on my mind: lamb. As its Easter Sunday lunch selection, Nostos offered a three set course menus, each one featuring a different lamb creation. The traditional roasted lamb, dashed with herbs and olive oil, is an homage to traditional Greek flavors. The lamb skin was crisp, while the lean meat was moist. And bless the chef’s soul – there was a slight mound of extra skin on the side. My obsession, however, was with the lamb shank. Slowly cooked in a tomato-based sauce, the meat – and the gelatinous, melt-in-your-mouth fatty bits – literally fell off the bone.

Chef Eugenia Markesini Hobson understands fat, texture, and flavor. Lamb, when not prepared correctly, is not a thing of beauty. But when masterfully done, the interplay of skin, lean meat, and fat offers a depth of flavor not easy to find in other red meats. Not only was the lamb superb, the chef’s other items on the Easter menu were spectacular as well. Chunks of liver and sweetbreads is something I have not tried in a soup, but together with fresh dill, I had glimpses of hearty offal heaven between spoonfuls. The grilled octopus leg, a house specialty, was dreamy soft and had a great charred flavor. The rock fish was cooked well, and the assortment of bread and traditional red eggs tied everything together on this occasion. (And I assure you we had more than one basket of bread.)

The Easter meal finished beautifully with crafty desserts and tasty coffee. The galaktoboureko (semolina custard wrapped in phyllo, sprinkled with honey and cinnamon) was other-worldly, and the kantaifi (shredded phyllo dough stuffed with walnuts and honey), although a bit on the sweet side, had great texture between the shreded phyllo, honey, and walnuts. Nostos serves coffee from Eagle Coffee, a Baltimore-based roaster founded in 1921 by Greek immigrants. While the Eagle House Blend did not light up any new light bulbs for me, the balanced coffee matched well with the honey-laden desserts.

Lamb on Easter. Fewer things are more beautiful, especially when it is prepared by Chef Eugenia Markesini Hobson of Nostos.

Ceviche – a tart, tangy mix of raw fish, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and lime juice. Baklava – layer after layer of crisp, buttery pastry dough and ground pistachios, drenched in honey. An unlikely duo under a single roof. But in Falls Church, VA, this matrimony not only exists, it’s astoundingly orchestrated, profoundly delightful. And oh, just tender, creamy lamb, tripe and beef tongue on the side. Just that.

What better way to spend a cold, windy Columbus Day. “Mirage” in Falls Church boasts a lineup of both Persian and Peruvian cuisine. Odd at first, but not for Falls Church. It’s already home to some of the best pho and bahn mi in the country. Persian and Peruvian? Why not.

My friend Scholar volunteers to lead me to a gastronomic experience I would not forget. Scholar is just that – a scholar. A student of modern Turkish history, of philosophy, of old dusty books in general. More importantly, for my purposes, he is a student of baklava and grilled meats on skewers

An aside: the “Peruvian” chicken, pictured prominently on my plate, was actually the worst dish. Just a hint of charcoal smoke, but nothing magical.

Good lamb is not easy to come by. Melt-in-your-mouth tripe, even harder. Beef tongue? It’s a lost art form in this part of the world. But as I grabbed my first plate to step up to the buffet line, there they were, lamb, tripe and tongue, simmering and resting side by side. My eyes widened in disbelief, and I swear I felt my heart beating on my fingertips as I piled on hills and mountains.

There is something inherently soothing about slow-roasted meat. It’s a religious experience, a holy grail moment. Lamb smothered in a blend of greenish, earthy herbs and spices, ready to spill its juices on first touch. Tripe soaking in a golden curry-like sauce, soft but not mushy, meaty yet not gamey. Beef tongue – one of the most delicate and flavorful parts of the animal – soft as velvet, with a taste that screams “BEEF”, more so than a plateful of steaming brisket.

Tender, moist, succulent cuts of meat in three different curry-like sauces, poured over three different types of rice. Don’t mind the flavors mixing – it’s all for the better.

On the opposite side of the dining hall, pans and pans of fresh baklava await. In my memory, this delightful pastry was usually detached from its herd, already locked up in clear, plastic containers. With luck, they may be aligned in lasagna-sized pans.

Here, giant circular pans, larger in diameter than the largest of New York pizzas, proudly housed the bite-sized, homemade manna. Scholar is ecstatic, haven’t seen him this aroused about anything. The baklava here, he proclaims, is the closest thing to the real Turkish deal in Northern Virginia. Impressed, I munch on, sipping a hot black tea of sorts in between bites – sweet and tart, crisp and flaky. God knows how pissed I would’ve been if they served Lipton. The tea didn’t even have the “L” of Lipton. It was a first for me, refreshing not bitter, dancing perfectly with the baklava.

Thanks Mr. Columbus. We have discovered new land indeed, in Falls Church.

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